By Rachel Lamont, co-ordinator, National Teen Driver Safety Week

An important step toward achieving zero fatalities and serious injuries on our roads is to create a new generation of drivers committed to improving their skills and reducing their chances of causing a serious crash.

As part of our Vision Zero commitment, Parachute leads Canada’s annual National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW),held in 2019 from Oct. 20 to 26. This year’s campaign aimed to educate teens about the dangers of drug-impaired driving, as well as drunk, distracted and aggressive driving. The Substance Use and Addictions Program of Health Canada is supporting our NTDSW 2019 theme of #KnowWhatImpairedMeans, which has allowed us to develop an extensive campaign to discourage driving after cannabis use. Read more about #KnowWhatImpairedMeans and view the campaign PSA videos.

Thanks to Parachute’s partnership with Desjardins, during NTDSW we delivered community toolkits across Canada to help communities run events and spread the word in their areas. But just how does that play out at the community level? Let’s take, as an example, the work done by the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) Trauma Centre at McGill University Health Centre. The MCH Injury Prevention Program’s “Is the Thrill Worth It?”program is a two-part initiative targeting adolescent driving behaviours.

The first component is the Student Leadership in Injury Prevention Program (SLIPP), a student-run education and awareness campaign focused on road safety, the prevention of motor vehicle collisions in young drivers and acute alcohol intoxication. For NTDSW, one SLIPP school used the Parachute NTDSW community toolkit to share key messaging around teen driver safety and handed out Positive Tickets to students, and another school held a school-wide pledge with their local police department to not drive impaired. A third school went on a tour of the trauma centre and met a brain injury survivor, as well as many trauma team members. Numerous other schools also planned activities for the following week for Halloween, including virtual-reality impaired driving obstacle courses and a Halloween-themed cupcake safe partying pledge.

SLIPP continues its efforts year-round, with the objective of creating powerful, innovative peer-led campaigns within their high schools to have a positive influence on student driving behaviours, ideally reducing the incidence of road-related crashes involving young drivers. 

SLIPP student leaders begin with an in-hospital orientation session and then conceptualize, plan and implement various creative activities targeting their peers throughout the school year, including National Teen Driver Safety Week. The students must complete a minimum of five activities, including a public service announcement video broadcast at their schools. The trauma centre highlights many of the activities developed in an annual spring exposition hosted at the hospital.  

The second component of the program is the delivery of “Is the Thrill Worth It?”, an interactive presentation given by trauma specialists involved in the MCH Trauma Injury Prevention Program. The presentation focuses on an original video created by the MCH Trauma Centre Injury Prevention Program featuring a car crash attributed to several common adolescent driving behaviours, including: distracted driving, fatigue, speeding, not wearing seatbelts and impaired driving. The students are then encouraged to reflect on and analyze each scenario by identifying the issue, as well as strategies that could have been used to ultimately prevent the crash. The presentation concludes with a second video, “Craig’s Story”, told through the voice of Craig’s mother, who shares the tragic loss of her son as a result of impaired driving and reflects on the life-long impact his death has had on his family, friends and community. 

This Montreal program, including its NTDSW activities, allows students to not only learn and integrate the risks related to driving, but also to take ownership of the message, which is reinforced with creative initiatives throughout the school year. By using peer leaders and having the messages conveyed in an ongoing manner, the “Is the Thrill Worth It?”program has the potential to create a larger social change within individual school communities and impact students’ road safety behaviours.